As we edge closer to summer season, you’d think that the quality of films would increase, but one look at the April movie slate suggests the complete opposite. Not only are there a surprising lack of new releases this month, but only a few of them show any sort of promise, like the latest installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise and the directorial debut from Alex Garland, which still doesn’t make up for the fact that a “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” sequel actually exists.
Who: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Jordana Brewster, Kurt Russell and Lucas Black What: Criminal mercenary Deckard Shaw seeks revenge against Dominic Toretto and his “family” for the death of his younger brother. When: April 3rd Why: The “Fast and Furious” movies have always been about fast cars, beautiful women and ridiculous stunts, but the upcoming seventh installment in the long-running series has a weight on its shoulders unlike any sequel/prequel before it. The unexpected death of Paul Walker not only effected the film’s production, but the manner in which he died has cast a morbid shadow over the project. As a fan, it’s great that they found a way to honor Walker and still complete the movie, but it’ll be interesting to see how the red-hot franchise continues going forward. If “Furious 7” does end up being the checkered flag at the end of an incredible Hollywood story, at least it’s going out in style with new additions like Jason Statham and Kurt Russell, and what looks to be some of the craziest set pieces to date.
Who: Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Sonoya Mizuno What: A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I. When: April 10th Why: Writer Alex Garland has worked almost exclusively in the science fiction genre, so it comes as no surprise that his directorial debut occupies a similar space. The debate on artificial intelligence may not exactly be a novel premise, but Garland has proven with films like “28 Days Later” and “Sunshine” that he’s capable of bringing a fresh spin to familiar material. And while are certain aspects of “Ex Machina” that we’ve definitely seen before, the trailers hint at something much more intriguing, beginning with the stunning design of Alicia Vikander’s A.I character. The movie also garnered rave reviews following its premiere at SXSW, and between Garland’s reputation for thought-provoking sci-fi and the brilliant casting, “Ex Machina” is shaping up to be something special indeed.
Who: Tom Hardy, Joel Kinnaman, Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke What: A disgraced member of the military police investigates a series of nasty child murders during the Stalin-era Soviet Union. When: April 17th Why: Based on Tom Rob Smith’s bestselling novel of the same name, “Child 44” isn’t the type of movie you’d normally expect to see released during this time of year. The material seems more appropriate for awards season, which suggests that the film didn’t live up to the studio’s expectations and was dumped instead, because there’s nothing about April that screams Russian period drama. Though it’s hard to believe the movie isn’t any good with such an impressive cast, director Daniel Espinosa has yet to convince me that he deserves to be working with top talent like Denzel Washington (“Safe House”), Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman. It probably doesn’t help that the trailer is a complete bore, because it only highlights the potential issue plaguing the film.
With the exception of Marvel’s Captain America sequel, the directorial debut of longtime Christopher Nolan collaborator Wally Pfister, and yet another Kevin Costner sports drama, April is suspiciously lacking in many big releases. Before theater chains are inundated with all the summer blockbusters, this month’s slate is mostly comprised of smaller independent films, many of which are actually quite promising.
“CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER”
Who: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie What: Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier. When: April 4th Why: The first Captain America movie may not have been one of Marvel’s best, but it was a solid and completely necessary introduction to the character that helped pave the way for the awesomeness that was “The Avengers.” And just like that film marked the beginning of the end of Phase One, “The Winter Solider” serves a very similar purpose for Phase Two. Loosely based on the popular storyline from the comics featuring the title character, Cap’s second solo adventure is shaping up to be everything fans wanted and more. The action looks fantastic and the cast is stacked – including the return of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, as well as the introduction of another famous face from the Marvel universe with Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson (AKA The Falcon) – so it’s easy to see why expectations are so high.
Who: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir and Emilia Clarke What: After spending 12 years in prison, notorious safe-cracker Dom Hemingway is back on the streets of London looking to collect what he’s owed. When: April 4th Why: It’s been nine years since writer/director Richard Shepherd burst onto the scene with the hugely entertaining black comedy “The Madator,” and with the exception of his underseen 2007 follow-up (“The Hunting Party”), he’s spent most of that time as a hired gun for various TV series. But he’s finally back with a new movie featuring a character that could rival Jonathan Glazer’s “Sexy Beast” for the title of Most Polarizing British Gangster, which is quite the feat considering that the British crime genre is jam-packed with loud, ballsy and over-the-top characters. Jude Law has always been one of my favorite actors, so it’s great to see him playing against type here as the larger-than-life criminal, much in the same way that Pierce Brosnan shocked audiences in “The Matador.” Though the film has received fairly mixed reviews since its UK debut, Law’s unhinged performance looks like reason enough to catch this in theaters.
Who: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Dennis Leary, Chadwick Boseman and Sam Elliot What: The General Manager of the Cleveland Browns struggles to acquire the number one draft pick for his team. When: April 11th Why: Between “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams,” “Tin Cup” and “For the Love of the Game,” it’s safe to say that Kevin Costner and sports movies go together like peanut butter and jelly, so perhaps the only surprising thing about “Draft Day” is that it’s about football instead of America’s favorite pastime. Filmed in Cleveland where it takes place, locals are no doubt hoping that this film can provide a much-needed reversal of fortune for their precious Brownies in the upcoming season. Whether it will be any good is another matter entirely. You’d have to go all the way back to the early ‘90s to find director Ivan Reitman’s last great movie, though it’s certainly encouraging that “Draft Day” seems to be more along the lines of “Moneyball” than “Major League,” because the behind-the-scenes stuff is far more engaging than anything that happens on the field.
April has always been an odd month for new releases, particularly now that the spring movie season doesn’t really exist anymore, at least not in the minds of studios. Instead, everything seems to be split into two groups: films that fit the summer mold and those that don’t. But while moviegoers will be pretty limited with their options this month, it’s definitely one of the more promising Aprils in recent memory.
Who: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas and Lou Taylor Pucci What: Five friends head to a remote cabin, where the discovery of a Book of the Dead leads them to unwittingly summon up demons living in the nearby woods. When: April 5th Why: Remakes are always a worrying proposition, especially for fans of the original film, but when it was announced that Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert were behind the modern-day update of “Evil Dead,” there was a collective sigh of relief. After all, who better to trust then the trio responsible for the 1981 cult original? It’s also nice to know that the film isn’t just a rehashing of Raimi’s first movie, but rather a whole new story with new characters in an otherwise familiar setting, and if the early buzz from the film’s world premiere at last month’s SXSW festival is any indication, Fede Alvarez’s remake/reboot/sequel (whatever you want to call it) has everything horror fans could possibly want – namely, the gooey red stuff, and plenty of it.
Who: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel and Danny Sapani What: An art auctioneer mixed up with a group of criminals teams up with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting. When: April 5th Why: Danny Boyle’s follow-up to “127 Hours” can’t get here quick enough, especially after being delayed by the director’s other engagements on stage (the National Theatre production of “Frankenstein”) and for his country (the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony). His new movie is a return to roots of sorts, reteaming with frequent collaborator John Hodge (“Shallow Grave,” “Trainspotting”) for the kind of gritty, edgy crime thriller that he cut his teeth making in the mid-90s. It’ll be interesting to see what Boyle brings to the genre now that he’s a more mature and wiser filmmaker, because “Trance” looks a lot more experimental than his recent work, and despite its “Inception”-like premise, that’s probably the most exciting thing of all.
With the summer movie season just around the corner, Hollywood is gearing up for what promises to be its most exciting slate of films in a long time by heading into the blockbuster-filled madness of May on a high note. This month has something for just about everyone, including several promising comedies, an innovative horror film with “Scream”-sized potential, and a new movie from action guru Luc Besson. It may not compare to what this summer has to offer, but it’s better than the doldrums of winter.
Who: Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Seann William Scott and Eugene Levy What: The gang is reunited in East Great Falls, Michigan for their high school reunion. When: April 6th Why: I’ve been a fan of the “American Pie” series (not including those terrible direct-to-DVD spinoffs, of course) since the original film was released back in 1999. It’s a purely generational thing; when the characters are having the same major life experiences as most people your age, it makes them easy to relate to. The movies also happen to be pretty entertaining in a guilty pleasure kind of way, and it’ll be great to see the whole cast reunited for the first time since they all went their separate ways to become big movie stars. Though that didn’t exactly work out for any of them (Alyson Hannigan and Seann William Scott are arguably the most successful of the bunch), as long as their chemistry is still intact, “American Reunion” should be a fun trip down memory lane.
“COMIC-CON: EPISODE IV – A FAN’S HOPE”
Who: Chuck Rozanski, Holly Conrad, Eric Henson, Anthony Calderon and Skip Harvey What: A behind-the-scenes look at the fans who gather by the thousands each year in San Diego, California to attend Comic-Con. When: April 6th Why: It’s actually quite surprising that no one has thought to make a documentary about Comic-Con until now, because although it’s not really a hard-hitting subject matter, it already has a built-in audience that continues to grow every year. Morgan Spurlock isn’t the first person you’d think of to direct a documentary about the popular geek Mecca, but he’s wisely chosen to stay out of the spotlight this time around, instead opting to focus on the lives of five attendees (including a toy collector, an aspiring artist and a costume designer) who have traveled to the annual convention for various reasons. And with guys like Stan Lee, Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith all involved in some form, Spurlock’s latest doc has the makings to be the perfect love letter to comic book geeks everywhere.
“THE CABIN IN THE WOODS”
Who: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford What: Five friends head to a remote cabin in the woods for the weekend where they get more than they bargained for. When: April 13th Why: I’ve had the good fortune to see Drew Goddard’s “The Cabin in the Woods” twice now, and it’s every bit as original and entertaining as you’d expect for a movie co-written by Joss Whedon. This is one of those films that you need to go into knowing as little as possible, so while the trailer has been provided below, I’d recommend that you don’t watch it in order to avoid spoiling anything. It may look like just your average slasher flick on paper, but the movie has a few tricks up its sleeves. Fueled by a great script that not only defies most horror conventions, but does so with tongue firmly planted in cheek, “The Cabin in the Woods” is either going to be the movie that everyone can’t stop talking about, or that no one goes to see. Do your part and make sure it’s the former.